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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Plot to kill reporter and garda revealed

But key state witness in Marioara trial now has full immunity

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

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Members of An Garda Siochana bring flowers to the funeral mass of murdered victim Marioara Rostas in Tileagd, Romania
Alan Wilson
Mick McCaffrey

The key witness in the Marioara Rostas murder trial was given immunity for conspiring to murder a journalist, it emerged at the end of last week's trial.

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And the Sunday Independent can reveal that the witness, Fergus O'Hanlon, was also overheard being ordered to murder a garda detective in a phone call intercepted by gardai. O'Hanlon was reputedly offered €30,000 for each murder.

After his immunity deal, O'Hanlon cannot be charged with conspiracy to murder.

O'Hanlon received the call from a prisoner in Cloverhill Prison in July 2011 directing him to murder Sunday World journalist Mick McCaffrey after an article appeared shortly beforehand in the newspaper about a well-known Dublin criminal.

O'Hanlon has complete immunity and is still believed to be in Ireland. It is understood attempts are now being made to encourage him to leave the country.

He was arrested in November 2011 and, confronted with the wire-tap evidence about the conspiracy to murder the journalist and garda, he began making a deal, which included leading gardai to Marioara's body in return for immunity.

He told gardai he was not involved in the January 2008 abduction and murder but assisted only in the disposal of the body. Having secured the basis of a deal, which gardai negotiated with the Director of Public Prosecutions, he led gardai to the grave in the Sally Gap in January 2012. However, he was formally granted immunity two days into the Marioara murder trial.

Alan Wilson (36), from New Street in south inner-city Dublin, was in Cloverhill Prison awaiting trial for a separate offence when he was charged with murdering Marioara. He was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment last year for a meat cleaver and shotgun attack on a man in Blanchardstown in June 2009. He is appealing his conviction in this case.

No evidence of the conspiracy to murder the journalist and garda was given during the trial but in his summing up last Tuesday, defence counsel Michael O'Higgins told the jury that among the "benefits" O'Hanlon received for agreeing to testify against Alan Wilson was immunity from a charge of conspiring "to murder a journalist". No mention was made of taped phone conversations from prison.

Gardai believe this mention of the journalist murder plot in Mr O'Higgins's summing up was key to copperfastening the already strong case mounted by the defence.

The month-long trial had heard about repeated instances of O'Hanlon's violent and erratic nature. While in witness protection he had broken away from his garda minders, had been on alcohol and drug binges and had wrecked three apartments and a hotel room. The court heard he returned to Dublin and threatened members of Wilson's family, including his former partner and mother of his two children, Maxine Wilson.

He was eventually taken into protective custody in prison because of increasingly erratic behaviour, including self-harm.

The legal defence also raised strong suspicions over O'Hanlon's version of events in the murder. The defence team showed a photofit image of the man who was seen driving Marioara away in a silver car. It was suggested it bore a strong resemblance to O'Hanlon. It was also shown he refused to take part in an identity parade at the time.

Marioara's younger brother, Dumitru, who was with her when she voluntarily got into the car, described the man as having blotchy skin, which also tallied with O'Hanlon's complexion. O'Hanlon denied he had picked up Marioara, though admitted he had regular use of the car belonging to Alan Wilson.

The plot against the journalist and garda had been under way for three months when O'Hanlon was arrested in 2011. An accomplice had acquired addresses from the Land Registry, it has been learned. He has not been charged with conspiracy either.

Mr McCaffrey, who is not commenting, was given advice by gardai to increase security around his home and to be careful of his movements. Colleagues of the detective said that no such advice was given to him, as the threat was regarded as "part of the job".

Gardai believe Marioara was murdered after she was caught making a brief call from a mobile phone, which was left momentarily in a room at a house where she was being held. It is believed her killer walked in on her seconds after she had called her brother, who had returned to Romania. The call ended after only a few seconds.

It is believed he then shot her dead with four bullets to the head.

O'Hanlon gave evidence that he was shown the body in an upstairs bedroom in a house in Brabazon Street in Dublin 8. He then helped take Marioara to the mountains, where she was buried.

Both the house and an apartment in Clontarf, where it is believed Marioara was also held, were burned out and any evidence destroyed.

Wilson, of slight build and around five feet six inches tall, sat impassively throughout the trial.

He was acquitted by a unanimous verdict.

Sunday Independent

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